Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Music of Joy

I download and listen to "Composers Datebook" every day. The 2- minute program, a production of American Public Media and the American Composers Forum, usually deals with a particular composer, either celebrating his or her birthday or the day they passed or the premiere of an important work.

On this date in 1824, an audience in Vienna, Austria, heard the premiere of Ludwig van Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony", the composer's final major work, the one that features the "Song of Joy" as its final section.  That stunning piece of music came to mind today as I played the new CD by multi-reed player and composer Paul Lieberman.  No, he does not rework the Beethoven masterpiece and his music is not really classical.  It is, however, filled from beginning to end with joy. 

After graduating from Yale in 1978, Lieberman moved to New York City where he continued his studies and played for dance companies. Working with Airto and Flora Purim solidified his love for Brazilian music and Lieberman moved to Rio De Janiero in the mid-1980s where he met and married his wife as well as becoming a popular studio musician. After returning to the US, he played with a slew of musicians from the jazz, soul and rock worlds and continued to work with many Brazilians. In 2006, he began to teach and study at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, earning his Master's Degree in Jazz Composition and Arranging.  Currently, he tours with Jaimoe's Jass Band, has been working with the Arturo O'Farrill Big Band, and has started a new Saxophone Quartet with Marty Ehrlich, Jason Robinson and Gary Smulyan.

"Ibeji" (self-released) is the long-awaited debut recording from the Boston, Massachusetts-area resident. Blessed with 2 cracker-jack rhythm  sections (either bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Tim Horner or bassist Nilson Matta and drummer Duduka da Fonseca) and a program that ranges from sparkling originals to classic tunes from Brazil to jazz standards to one of the best covers of a Beatles tune by a jazz player, the recording shines.  The secret weapon is the brilliant work of co-producer and pianist Joel A. Martin, whose playing has is so effervescent that it jumps out of the speakers as if to hug the listener. Even his work on the slow tunes sparkles.  Lieberman plays tenor, alto and soprano saxophones plus flute, alto flute, piccolo, percussion and adds several vocal flourishes.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the program is how Lieberman uses his American rhythm section to re-imagine the Brazilian tunes (Jobim's "Inutil Paisagem" as a shuffle! and Ivan Lins' ballad "Doce Presenca" with a strong blues feel and opening phrase hearkens back to "April in Paris") and the Brazilian rhythm section to give new life to classic pieces such as Al Dubin & Harry Warren's "Lulu's Back in Town" (bossa nova) and "I'll Remember April" as a sprightly samba. I have always loved Lennon & McCartney's "In My Life", a somewhat melancholy love song that looks back on "people and things that went before."  Lieberman takes the tune up several notches, overdubs several flutes then rises atop Matta's melodic bass lines, da Fonseca's sprightly rhythms, and Martin's intelligent piano fills to create a piece that celebrates life to its fullest.  On the leader's "Voa Livre" ("fly free"), cellist Eugene Friesen and drummer Jaimoe (he, an original and current member of the Allman Brothers Band)  make guest appearances, filling out the sound.  Lieberman plays the enchanting melody on several flutes while Friesen moves gracefully behind him.  The leader makes a sudden and subtle shift to saxophone while his wife adds a wordless vocal, harmonizing with the cello.  The effect is pleasing and oh-so-sweet, even as the saxophone and drums build the intensity.  The program closes with "Beatriz", a lovely ballad from the pens of Edu Lobo and Chico Buarque, played only by Martin and Lieberman (alto flute).  "Lovely" is a weak word for this stunning, heartfelt, and emotional work.

In truth, "Ibeji" is "soul" music through and through, in the way that John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme", JS Bach's "6 Suites for Cello", and, yes, "Song of Joy"  is "soul" music to my ears.  The music comes from a place that combines technique, intelligence, experience, emotions and risk-taking that pushes the musician beyond the ordinary or the commonplace. How one reacts to this joyful creation is a matter of personal taste but, for this listener, I am going to return to this recording over and over because I like just how fine this music makes me feel. 

For more information, go to www.paullieberman.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment